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Broadway’s Purlie Victorious Rises Up and Shines Hilariously

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Dressing from a rack center stage, the cast of the impeccably done Broadway revival of Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch sets the Music Box stage dutifully and efficiently for its grand return. And although no one is home, it seems, for his arrival, this play, which started as a drama over sixty years ago, has become a beacon of hilarity and meaning, all to the sounds of a banjo playing the cast forward. Written with a spark by the late Ossie Davis (I’m Not Rappaport), a man as prolific as he is legendary as an actor, writer, and director, this current comedic re-creation, as directed with a sure-footedness by Kenny Leon (Broadway’s Topdog/Underdog), finds its lopsided stance is its rage as much as its hope. Having not been performed on Broadway since its original 1961-62 run, Purlie Victorious – not to be confused with the musical 1970 version, Purlie, a show I knew nothing about – binds itself around a preacher man determined, through a wild scheme, to claim an inheritance that he feels he and his community deserve, so that he may save his hometown church, and himself in the process.

Kara Young, Heather Alicia Simms, Leslie Odom, Jr., Vanessa Bell Calloway, Billy Eugene Jones, and Noah Robbins Photo by Marc J. Franklin.

As played with a wild determination by a very able Leslie Odom, Jr. (Broadway’s Hamilton), Purlie Victorious flows fast and furiously funny forward. He fills the space with his bold confidence and verve, delivering a performance that feels full, even if a bit one-note. But the true standout in this wildly fun production is the phenomenally gifted Kara Young (MTC’s Cost of Living) as the game and gutsy Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins. She steals everything away from everything else, taking over our senses with a quick hilarious twist of the ankle. Or so it would seem. Together the two hypnotize, and under Purlie’s tutelage and direction, we watch the pair plot to pass off the pretty Lutiebelle, who is completely smitten under the Purlie-spell, as his Cousin Bee who has an old claim to a $500 inheritance from the ironically named, “great white father of the year”, Ol’ Cap’n Cotchipee, dutifully portrayed with vinegar by Jay O. Sanders (Broadway’s Girl From the North Country). Battered and feathered in lingering racism, the laughs fly strong, while the heart of the matter hits slyly and with the great aim and sting of a whip.

Purlie, and his crew of family and friends; Idella Landy, played wonderfully by Vanessa Bell Calloway (Broadway’s Dreamgirls), Purlie’s brother, Gitlow Jodson, played powerfully by Billy Eugene Jones (Broadway’s Fat Ham), and Gitlow’s wife, Missy Judson, played to perfection by Heather Alicia Simms (TFANA’s Fairview), understand the difficulties that lay ahead. Cotchipee, who still lives and rules his roost as if nothing really has changed in the last fifty years, continues to keep a number of Black folks living under his financial thumb, thanks to a never-ending debt brigade, and he won’t part with that money easily.  No matter what his more liberal son, Charlie Cotchipee, wonderfully portrayed by Noah Robbins (Rattlestick’s Lewiston/Clarkston) believes and repeatedly says. So the plan of trickery is the best they have, and with the hilarious enlistment of Lutiebelle putting on his cousin’s college-educated airs and her big city shoes, they try with all their might to pull this thing off. Believing that it might just work, for the simple fact that, to be frank, Purtue understands and knows an old racist truth; that Cotchipee sees all Black faces as lesser and basically just the same. He only sees the face of a slave, and nothing more.

Being colored can be a lot of fun when there ain’t nobody looking.” And inside this play by Davis, the undercurrent of truth and humor never fails to deliver. Line after brilliantly nuanced line, this magnificently well-played production unwraps the darkness of form with a fevered frivolity inside the funny. Condensed from three acts into a sharply defined 105min, the cast, on a glorious designed set by Derek McLane (Broadway’s Moulin Rouge!), with focused lighting by Adam Honoré (Broadway’s Ain’t No Mo’), a solid sound design by Peter Fitzgerald (Broadway’s KPOP), original music by Guy Davis (Sugarbelly & Other Tales…), and some fantastic costumes by Emilio Sosa (Broadway’s Good Night, Oscar), finds glory and honor inside all those laughs lifted directly out of the righteousness. This joy is especially true with Gitlow’s “best pretending” contortions that please us as much as they please (and skewers) the Ol’ Cap’n Cotchipee.

Heather Alicia Simms and Billy Eugene Jones Photo by Marc J. Franklin.

Beyond Young’s meticulously well-constructed Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins evading the likes of Cotchipee, The Deputy (Noah Pyzik), and The Sheriff (Bill Timoney), the writing and the formulation are what carries the piece forward. The preacher does preach, and sometimes, mainly because of that one-note problem, the words in those moments start to dull themselves into a drone, carrying a burden too great for any actor or creator to carry. The levels of required engagement and messaging leave the main character’s speeches lost in a fog, with too many questions to answer about his reasoning and his rationale. But the overall effect works its way forward, in somewhat of a miraculous manner. Delivering laughs with a point, The play is as relevant not as ever, feeling ever so modern in its messaging and its design. It will entertain and amaze, giving laughs in place of drama, without ever losing the point.


Jay O. Sanders, Billy Eugene Jones, Kara Young, and Leslie Odom, Jr Photo by Marc J. Franklin.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Broadway

The Glorious Corner

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G.H. Harding

MORE MURDER — (Via Deadline) Sophie Ellis-Bextor is gearing up to tour around North America for the first time and adding more cities for fans to see her perform “Murder on the Dance Floor” live.

The British singer’s song is featured in the final scene of Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn, where Barry Keoghan’s Oliver dances naked around the manor. After the scene went viral, the song, co-written by Ellis-Bextor and Gregg Alexander, also went viral on social media. “Murder on the Dance Floor” was originally released in 2001, but it never charted on the Billboard Hot 100 until now, peaking at 51 recently.

Ellis-Bextor recently made an appearance on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon where she performed the viral hit and the star is now embarking on a North America tour.

The artist announced her first-ever live show in NYC, set to take place on June 6 at Webster Hall, and the date quickly sold out. Ellis-Bextor has now announced more dates across the U.S. and Canada that will take her to San Francisco, San Diego, Boston, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia.

“Oh my… the New York show sold out in a day! Thank you thank you thank you,” Ellis-Bextor said in her newsletter announcing the additional tour dates. “So – how about some more shows in some more cities?! My band and I are coming for you! Super excited. Come and dance with me….”

May 30: August Hall (San Francisco, CA)May 31: The Observatory North Park (San Diego, CA)June 3: 9:30 Club (Washington D.C.)June 4: Royale Boston (Boston, MA)June 5: Union Transfer (Philadelphia, PA)June 6: Webster Hall (New York City, NY)June 8: Danforth Music Hall (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)

I love this record, because its an actual song. Sure, they repeat the title about three-dozen times, but its a great track.

Neil Diamond and Micky Dolenz

NOISE CLOSES — (Via Deadline) Broadway’s A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical will play its final performance on Sunday, June 30, before launching a national tour this fall, producers announced today.

The musical, which began previews on November 2, 2022, at the Broadhurst Theatre and opened that year on December 4, will have played 35 preview performances and 657 regular performances when it closes.

As I’ve said, early reviews of the show, kind of stopped me from going to this. An artist who is even referenced in the play said to me ‘why would I go to a play that got bad reviews.’ Understood.

But, I did see it and absolutely loved it. Of course, I’m somewhat on the business side and loved all the insider-nuances. And, I saw it with the original performers in it.

There will be a national tour and I predict it will be a huge hit as Diamond’s music is multi-generational. As I’ve said, I preferred Diamond’s “Solitary Man”-period more than “America” and “I Am, I Said.” Although, “Turn On Your Heart Light” (written with Carole Bayer Sager and Burt Bacharach) was a great record.

An icon for certain.

SHORT TAKES — Warner’s second Aquaman movie; Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom will stream on MAX on February 27. The first Aquaman movie, out in 2018, remains the highest-grossing DC film of all time. The sequel, after a plethora of media, mostly about Amber Heard, disappeared in a matter of weeks … Broadway-journeyman and Rockers On Broadway-creator Donnie Kehr recupping. Get well soon brother! … Keith Girard’s New York Independent featured an interview with 17-old wunderkind Kjersti Long. Check it out: https://www.thenyindependent.com/music/1704991/kjersti-long-17-explores-her-jersey-roots-by-way-of-utah-with-power-pop-style-video/

Pet Shop Boys

Just listened to the Pet Shop Boys “West End Girls.” What a tremendous record that hold up amazingly well all these years later. It came out in 1984 and produced by Bobby Orlando … Amazon shuttering Freevee? First off, as an offshoot of Amazon, this has got to be one of the worst monikers ever! I mean, FreeVee ... always sounded like frisbee!  Adios … Thursday’s Law & Order was the ode to Sam Waterston’s Jack McCoy-character (Last Dance).

Sam Waterston

After 404 episodes, we had to say goodbye. It wasn’t the greatest episode, but when McCoy took over the case and presented it to the jury, Waterston shone brightly. When McCoy said to Hugh Dancy (Nolan Ryan), it was a hell of a ride, it resonated terrifically. Thanks Jack! …

True Detective

I loved the finale on HBO of True Detective with Jodie Foster and Kali Reis. I didn’t understand it all, but the look and direction (by Issa Lopez) and Jodie Foster was just superb. I had forgotten just how good an actress Foster was. Sure, she was good in Nyad, but it was a supporting role. Here, she was just stellar. I’d like to see more of her …

Micky Jones

It was a grim week medically speaking as talk-show hostess Wendy Williams was diagnosed with aphasia and dementia and Mick Jones of Foreigner, with Parkinson’s. Sending prayers to both … And finally, news surfaced Thursday that an “inebriated” Andy Cohen harassed Brandi Glanville. I don’t know Andy at all, but his bad-boy antics of the last several years were clearly leading to something like this. Glanville’s lawyers even invoked NBC’s Matt Lauer in their brief. Expect a huge media brouhaha over this one. Sad for sure … Happy Bday Lou Christie; Niki Avers and Chloe Gaier.

NAMES IN THE NEWS — Steve Walter; Obi Steinman; Felix Cavaliere; Tom & Lisa Cuddy; Kent Kotal; Ace Frehley; Alex Saltzman; Lush Ice; Tony King; Barry Zelman; Justin Ridener; Kent & Laura Denmark; Mark Bego; Mark Scheerer; Barbara Shelley; and SADIE!

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Broadway

Stephen Schwartz To Be Inducted into The Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame

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Legendary Award Winning Broadway and Movie Music Composer Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell, Pippin) will be inducted into the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame (LIMEHOF) on Saturday, March 23rd, 2024 at 7pm.

There will also be concert emceed by Musician Paul Shaffer (from the David Letterman Show) who worked with Schwartz early in his career.

Schwartz has won 4 Grammys and 3 Oscars among other awards in his career that spans over 50 years both on Broadway and on the silver screen. Additionally, Schwartz has contributed music and lyrics to several movies such as “Pocahontas” (1995), “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1996), “The Prince of Egypt” (1998), and “Enchanted” (2007).He was also involved with the upcoming feature film adaptation of Wicked to be released in the fall.

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Ani DiFranco and Lola Tung Join Hadestown

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The Tony and Grammy Award®-winning Best Musical Hadestown is currently stars Grammy Award winner Ani DiFranco as Persephone singing “Our Lady Of The Underground”.

 Lola Tung (“The Summer I Turned Pretty”) as Eurydice, Jordan Fisher (Dear Evan Hansen, Grease: Live,) as Orpheus here singing “All I’ve Ever Known”.

Grammy Award nominee Phillip Boykin as Hades, and Tony Award winner Lillias White as Hermes.

They are joined by Belén Moyano, Kay Trinidad, and Brit West as the Fates. The chorus of Workers is played by Emily Afton, Malcolm Armwood, Chibueze Ihuoma, Alex Puette, and Grace Yoo. The cast includes swings Sojourner Brown, Brandon Cameron, Tara Jackson, Max Kumangai, Alex Lugo, and Tanner Ray Wilson.

Hadestown originated as Anaïs Mitchell’s indie theater project that toured Vermont which she then turned into an acclaimed album. With Rachel Chavkin, her artistic collaborator, Hadestown has been transformed into a genre-defying new musical that blends modern American folk music with New Orleans-inspired jazz to reimagine a sweeping ancient tale.

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Broadway

Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents Goes Live With Bonnie Comley and Stewart F. Lane

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Photo of Bonnie Comley, Stewart F. Lane and Suzanna Bowling

“Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents ”, is a new show that is filmed live every Wednesday from 5 – 6 in the lobby of the iconic Hotel Edison, before a live audience. We will run the video on our site every Thursday and then it moves onto the podcast networks.

In this episode T2C’s publisher and owner Suzanna Bowling talks with Broadway royalty and longtime married couple Bonnie Comley and Stewart F. Lane. We talk about the Palace Theatre, Broadway HD and so much more.

We were also so excited because the show and our guests are now featured on the TV screens in the lobby and the hotel rooms.

I am so grateful to my guests Bonnie and Stewart for joining me. Thank-you Magda Katz for videoing and creating the content to go live, the audience who showed up to support us, Rommel Gopez and The Hotel Edison for their kindness and hospitality.

We hope to see you there on February 21st for our guests the creator of Times Square and Hampton Fashion Week Dee Rivera, Celebrity hairstylist Samantha Smoker and Fashion Designer Shani Grosz.

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Book Reviews

Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley

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I am so pleased to announce our guests for Valentine’s Day are Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley, the founders of BroadwayHD.com, an online streaming service on a mission to promote and preserve live theatre, extending the reach of Broadway and Broadway-caliber shows to anyone, anywhere. BroadwayHD currently has a catalog of over 300 full-length stage plays and musicals available for streaming on demand, so when you can’t get to Broadway, go to BroadwayHD on your tv, phone, or tablet!

Mr. Lane and Ms. Comley have collectively produced over 40 films and 45 Broadway shows, garnering nine Tony Awards and another 14 Tony nominations. They have also won Olivier Awards, Drama Desk, Drama
League, and Outer Critics Circle Awards for their stage productions. Lane has co-owned Broadway’s famous Palace Theater for almost 40 years.

The theater community has honored the couple for their philanthropic work, including The Actors Fund Medal of Honor, The Drama League Special Contribution to the Theater Award, The Paul Newman Award from Arts Horizons, and The Theater Museum Distinguished Service Award. The stage at Boston University’s new theater center is named in their honor, as is the Music Theater Program. The Musical Theater Society Room bears their name at Emerson College, and the 500-seat theater at the University
of Massachusetts Lowell is known as the Comley Lane Theater. Lane is a recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award at Boston University, and Comley is Distinguished Alumni of both Emerson College and UMass Lowell.

Mr. Lane is a theater historian and playwright and has written the critically acclaimed “Black Broadway: African Americans on the Great White Way” (Square One Publishers), “Jews on Broadway” (McFarland Publishers), “Let’s Put on a Show” (Working Arts Library), and the plays “In The Wings (published in spring 2008 by Hal Leonard), “If It Was Easy” (published by Performing Books and nominated for Best New Play by the American Theatre Critics Association), and the musical “Back Home Again” (with music
and lyrics by John Denver) which he was awarded The 2011 John Denver Spirit Award for his work.

“Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents ”, is a new show that will be filmed live every Wednesday from 5 – 6 in the lobby of the iconic Hotel Edison, before a live audience. To see our first episode click here.

Originally our guest was Maury Yeston, but he had to reschedule. He will be our guest at a later date, however Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley, our guests for Valentine’s Day could not be more perfect. They are the epitome or Love and Broadway.

See you at The Hotel Edison.

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